CM . . .
. Volume XI Number 5 . . . . October 29, 2004
In the days of video, one purchased a video by title. A 90 minute product ran 90 minutes. You got exactly what you paid for. Period. But the DVD has changed all that. The DVD presents "value added" bonus features. Probably this is because it can. There is so much space on a DVD disc that it is easy to give the buyer a little more that the promised title.
McLuhan's Wake is a case in point. It presents a 94 minute program on Marshall McLuhan. But it does not stop there. There are two additional videos. The first is a five minute animated short based on Edgar Alan Poe's "The Descent into the Maelstrom." This short film is also featured prominently in McLuhan's Wake. There is also a 30 minute interview with Corine McLuhan, Marshall McLuhan's widow, Again, scenes from this interview appear in McLuhan's Wake. But there is still more. There are two audio lectures that McLuhan gave in 1960 and 1961 to two different audiences. Each of these runs some 60 minutes. The complete musical soundtrack is available to listen to, without narration, without visuals. Just the music. There are a series of sound bites of McLuhanisms. And, there are another eight or so audio lectures/interviews with individuals who knew McLuhan or appreciated his work. Finally, the DVD is supplemented with over one hundred pages or print information, including the complete script, a teaching guide, and a bibliography. All in all, if one purchases McLuhan's Wake Collectors Edition, one cannot help be impressed by the length and number of bonus features.
On the other hand, McLuhan himself would probably be intrigued by the new format and would probably insist that what is most interesting is the new medium of DVD itself, not the content. One needs to ask, using McLuhan's laws of media (which form the centerpiece for this presentation) What is gained? What is lost? What does it bring back that we used to have? What does it deconstruct into?
What is gained is more material, more information, more content. No longer is one satisfied with the ostensible video title alone. We want more. We expect the "value added" bonuses.
What is lost is linearity. One can enter any of the components, without using any of the others. Or, one can plow through the entire "library" presented here in any order one desires. McLuhan would understand that! Paradoxically, what is also lost is instant access to a given scene. In video format, one finds the required scene, and it can be cued up, ready for use. This cannot be done in DVD format.
What is brought back is a library; yet curiously it is a very selective and incomplete library.
And when carried to the extreme, the project deconstructs into information overload. As full as the DVD is, there is so much missing. For example, the producers might have included the full text of Understanding Media, or any other of McLuhan's works. There could have been other videos, such as the NFB's own The Medium is the Message, You Know.
The result is an interesting, non-linear, meandering retrospective look at McLuhan. What is most important is that McLuhan is being re-evaluated in the age of the internet. There is no doubt that he is coming up a winner. His work, it turns out, it neither dated nor "far out." It is amazingly accurate. The work of McLuhan deserves another look, and this DVD convinces.
But since this review is for an education-based on-line journal, one needs to ask, "Where does this fit into some formal curriculum?" Unfortunately, it does not fit directly, only peripherally. One might place it in upper high school media studies or Canadian studies courses, but 94 minutes is quite lengthy. School periods are more likely to be 45 minutes long rather than 90 minutes. Likewise the DVD would fit into college and university programs and courses. But it seems most likely to be appropriate where a full unit on McLuhan exists and the class has the luxury spending not an hour or two, but perhaps say, ten hours on the theme of Marshall McLuhan. Unfortunately, there are not many such courses, at any level.
Finally, the title itself is a fitting paradox. A wake is a celebration after someone's death, and this is certainly a celebration of McLuhan. A wake is also the reverberation of something that has passed by, usually referring to water. McLuhan too is still making waves, in the age of the internet. A wake-up call jars one awake. Whichever meaning of "wake" one chooses, the title seems to work.
This is a wonderful production, but full of paradoxes. If you want hours and hours on McLuhan, it is here. Yet, even with this sumptuous feast of McLuhanisms, it is NOT all here, and it is NOT a complete picture. You still need to go back and read the originals. After all, the medium is the message.
Denis Hlynka is a Professor of Instructional Technology in the Department of Curriculum Teaching and Learning, Faculty of Education, University of Manitoba.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.